The award-winning Northampton-born London-based designer is a firm favourite with all of us here at Topman Generation Towers and his latest collaboration with Topman – dreamed up in association with Topman’s Creative Director Gordon Richardson – is Made In Britain
. The directional luxury knitwear line celebrates his roots, being conceived, crafted and created on the isle of Albion using luxe British yarns. The unique and explosively colourful, almost psychedelic collection (although it retains his consistent nod to grunge culture) contains tartans, oversized polka dots and has that unique feel that only James Long can bring to the table. Here, Fashion East’s finest international export talks exclusively to us about the genesis of the gender-bending collection, taking it up a gear at the the forthcoming London Collections: Men and making clothes for the modern global nomad.
Topman Generation: Where did the idea to do a knitwear range for Topman come from?
James Long: Gordon Richardson emailed me to suggest it and I said, yeah, it sounds great. We both came up with the notion that it would be called Made In Britain, which is really important to both us. The key thing was that it had to be high quality, which I really think it is – the yarns are sourced in Britain and the processes within the pieces are very much my processes; it’s not what you’d normally get from a male line. It is the first time they’ve ever shot a girl for a Topman campaign, so they’re going to cross-pollinate it with Topshop as well, which kind of needed to happen – it’s kind of relevant at the moment. It was nice that we pushed that!
Topman Generation: What were the key inspirations?
James Long: The first thing was to look at what makes up one of my own knitwear pieces – the texture, the fluff, the technical stuff. The square in the middle of the Arran jumper, for example, is quite a technical thing to do. After that, I looked at my favourite people at the moment. There’s a great 60s image of Keith Richards pictured in an Arran jumper, so it’s kind of my twist on that. Some of the pieces were literally relevant to the polka-dot autumn/winter show I did. The multi-coloured one jumper very much a twist on a classic 70s Bay City Rollers sort of check, but in my mad colours and textures. The overriding reference really though was from an image of Kurt Cobain by Steve Gullick. There’s something about that image – the proportion and his jeans and his Converse and that feeling of that little jacket but within my twists and colours…
Topman Generation: Do you think there’s a push back to that early 90s grunge trend at the moment?
James Long: Well, for me it’s always there – it’s what I’ve grown up with, I suppose. I remember my cousins’ in Ireland – these two girls that were older than me. I was probably 13 and they were 15, so they looked older and were really cool. I was like, ‘what’s that album you’ve bought?’ and they said ‘Nevermind’ – thought they were saying ‘never you mind’ to me – like, don’t listen. Of course, then I was just like, I have to know who this is! I got really into them.
Topman Generation: You’re preparing for your first collection without sponsorship. How does that feel?
James Long: It’s exciting, but it’s also another challenge because you’re creating another collection, a collection for your stores and for your own brand. You’ve got to consider things very differently – you’re not just pleasing all these people, so there’s a lot more considering of what your collection is about, who is it for. You have to think about a more international audience. How you think about men from completely different places culturally. I think the first focus is definitely about the temperature in the world, but for many people, seasons aren’t really that relevant in terms of clothes any more. You’ve just told me that you were in LA last week, you’re here this week... I’m here, I’m there, too. It kind of almost has to be a trans-seasonal approach these days, but there are a few key pieces. Some of the clothes, that I do you could just never sell in Hong Kong or China because they would just never have that lifestyle. So you have to take the ethos or the idea from it and then make it technically appropriate for the rest of the world.
Topman Generation: Finally, what wardrobe staples can you not be without for winter?
James Long: I think I’d need this cardigan I’m wearing. A long knitted cardigan. I kind of live by a welted shoe, a goodyear shoe. Then probably some kind of Arran sweater. I mean, I always go back to a lumberjack checked shirt for winter, a brush cotton shirt. It always comes back to that image of Kurt Cobain!